The Heresy of Religious Freedom

It is getting much harder to call myself a Christian.

This isn’t because I have lost any faith in the saving and redeeming power of Jesus. Far from it: my commitment to follow the Way is as strong as it has ever been, stronger even. It isn’t because I have been sinning in any spectacular way: my sins are what they have always been, significant only in their persistence, rather than their magnitude.

No, it is harder to call myself a Christian because that title has become toxic to so many people, both inside and outside of the church. While I would love to loudly proclaim myself as a Follower of Jesus, that proclamation now has to come with caveats to avoid hurting entire groups of people.

“I am a Follower of Jesus, but I don’t hate gay people.

“I am a Follower of Jesus, but I don’t hate Muslims.

“I am a Follower of Jesus, but I don’t believe that you’re bound for Hell.

The past 7 years have been particularly difficult. A liberal/progressive President has drawn a number of conservative reactionary groups out of the woodwork. Many of these groups are Christian, at least in name. They long for a Christian America of the 1940s and 50s… when we had White’s Only signs in every window. Or, maybe they long for a Christian America of the 1850s… when we owned black people. Or, perhaps an earlier version of Christian America…. when we massacred the majority of a native people because they wouldn’t convert, to bring “civilization” to a “savage” land. A Christian America where European settlers, fleeing persecution for their lack of ideological purity… tortured and murdered people for their lack of ideological purity.

Make no mistake: that is what a Christian America has looked like throughout history. It is a long and bloody trail of Christians oppressing and murdering in the name of the Savior who told his disciples to put away their swords.

In modern Christian America, our methods are more civilized, but our attitude remains unchanged. We are the Chosen, which makes those who do not believe like we do “rejected.” This attitude has become sharply defined in the recent avalanche of “Religious Freedom Restoration” legislation, which has become law in Indiana, and will soon become law in other states.

Christian leaders like Franklin Graham praise this move towards moral uprightness. No longer will Christian businesses be forced to provide goods and services to people that they don’t like… I mean, people and activities that offend or contradict their “sincerely held religious beliefs.” We’re assured that this legislation isn’t discriminatory; it’s simply protecting “religious freedom.” “Religious freedom”, as you might have heard, is so strongly under attack in the nation – especially amongst Christians – that we need far more than simply the First Amendment of our Constitution to protect it.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, I bring a word from God today. I don’t often claim to speak with the Spirit, but today feels like the day when I must say “Thus saith the Lord.”

Our religious freedom has become an idol. Our belief in religious freedom at all costs is a heresy.

We’ve been in the Lenten season, which is typically a time for we Christians to reflect on the sacrifice of Jesus, and think of the things that we can sacrifice in our own lives, the things that keep us out of closer relationship with our God. In a little less than a week, we will celebrate Good Friday. Good Friday marks the day that Jesus went to the cross, when Jesus took on the sin of all mankind and expunged it. Good Friday marks the day that Jesus cried out from the cross, where he hung dying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” Good Friday marks the day when the earth shook, and the veil of the Temple – the barrier between God and man for a thousand years – tore asunder. No longer was God an unapproachable entity. God came and dwelt among us, dwelt in us. When Jesus died, the power of sin died with Him. Separation from God was no longer an option.

We commit a terrible sin, as those who claim to follow Jesus, when we try to separate others from the forgiveness and love that Christ offered on Good Friday. How do we do this? We do this by constantly pointing out the power of what we see as “their sin”. (Note the word “their” and “they” when we talk about sin. We reserve grace for ourselves, and judgement for the world… but that’s another post.)

Good Friday also marks the day that Jesus willingly gave up His rights and His freedoms, and allowed Himself to be tried without defense and killed without mercy. He never made any protests about His “sincerely held religious beliefs” when He was accused of disrupting commerce or causing a riot in the Temple. He never claimed any special citizenship, any special privilege. When accused before the Sanhedrin for blasphemy, He simply said, “It is as you say.”

Stephen the Martyr wasn’t dragged kicking and screaming to his death. He lifted his eyes up to Heaven, and cried out for the glory that awaited him.

Coptic Christians in Egypt. Christians in Syria and Iraq. Christians in so many parts of the world. They are beaten. They are robbed. They are killed. And yet, Christianity remains strong in those areas of persecution, where “religious freedom” is an oxymoron.

Contrast that to America, where we cling tightly to our idea of religious freedom, where we proclaim loudly our own persecution, and we watch the Church lose members, lose influence, lose credibility.

We have enshrined into law the right to refuse goods and services to anyone who offends our religious sensibilities, and we have done it in the name of Him who said, “If any man demands your coat, give him your cloak also.”

We have demanded tax exemptions for our most extravagant buildings, and done it in the name of Him who said, “Render unto Caesar that which belongs to Caesar.”

Men like Franklin Graham proclaim loudly from places of power and wealth, and claim the name of Him who said, “Blessed are the meek.”

Christian leaders demand the persecution and death of Muslims around the world, in the name of Him who said, “Blessed are the merciful.”

Christian leaders, like Tony Perkins of the “Family Research Council”, warn of Christians rising up violently against the government in the event of federal recognition of same-sex marriage, and in the name of Him who said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.”

We claim the name of Jesus in America, and look nothing like Him. We claim the desire, the mandate, to be a “Christian nation”, and yet our laws, our history and our behavior refute every basic tenet of the teachings of Jesus. We demand the freedom, the right, to worship Him as we please, and yet rights and freedoms never entered into the life, death or teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.

Make no mistake, Christians of America, we are committing a grave heresy in our relentless pursuit of power and “freedom.” We are making an idol of our “rights”, and in doing so we make a mockery of the One who gave up all of His rights, all of His freedom and refused every power that was offered to Him. We spit in the rivers of blood that the martyrs of our faith have shed, and we trivialize the very real, tangible struggles of Christians around the world.

There may come a day in America when Christians are really persecuted, but it won’t be because bakers have to make cakes for same-sex weddings, or photographers have to take pictures for them. And, if that day comes when we are truly persecuted – when it becomes illegal for us to worship, except in secret; when Christians are being rounded up and put into camps, or beaten and killed – if that day comes, I hope that we will never scream about our rights and our freedoms. I know that those who worship God “in spirit and in truth” will follow the instructions of Jesus, when He said, “Rejoice when you are persecuted, for they persecuted the prophets before you!”

If Franklin Graham really believes that Christians are in danger of persecution, he should rejoice! If Tony Perkins believes that we are in danger of being rounded up and killed, he should know that he is in good company! Jesus promised us eternal rewards for facing trouble here on Earth, He promised that we would be first in the Kingdom of God – if only we were willing to be last here on Earth. I greatly fear for many of my Christian brothers and sisters when the Day of Judgement comes – because in the mad rush for “freedom”, in the endless grasping for “rights”, we have demanded that we be first and most important here on Earth, and all but guaranteed that we will be last in the coming Kingdom.

Thus saith the Lord.

Michael Brian Woywood

For more information on Christians being persecuted across the world, check out the blog Christians in Crisis.

Advertisements

74 thoughts on “The Heresy of Religious Freedom

  1. Pingback: The Heresy of Religious Freedom | progressiveredneckpreacher

  2. Michael, while I see, acknowledge and grieve about some of what you address, I think you badly botched your whole opening. You make claims about racist Christian groups and racist conservative groups without establishing any proof for those claims. You made seemingly ignorant comments about what “a Christian American has looked like throughout history,” comments that seem to indicate you are far more comfortable with blame and condemnation than you are with looking at things outside of a limited/narrow/agenda-driven scope. A good friend of mine and I have had a discussion going all day on FB about your post, with him as your apologist and me as the Devil’s advocate, so thanks for that. If you are interested in reading that exchange, I welcome your input. If you are inclined, send me a FB request and I’ll approve it and send you the link to our conversation. Grace and Peace.

    • A cursory study of the history of the Church, as it relates to racial discrimination, slavery, and the genocide of the Native Americans is more than enough to back any of the claims. I was making generalizations, because the post wasn’t about that history as much as it was about our current state of affairs.

      I take a small amount of umbrage with your accusation that I am uncomfortable looking at things outside of a limited/narrow/agenda-driven scope. I have a wide range of experiences, and I have always tried to approach topics with sensitivity. With this particular topic, I simply believe that the sensitivity needs to lie with the persons who are being hurt by this continuing idolatry.

      Finally, I am glad that the post spurred some healthy discussion between you and your friend. There are several Scott Ragans on Facebook, so I’m not sure who to send the friend request to. I will accept any request you send to me. Grace and peace to you as well.

      • Very thought provoking. But, like another commenter here, I almost didn’t make it to the meat of your argument because of the commonly-held liberal (and sometimes anti-Christian) criticism you make at the top laying slavery, torture, murder, genocide, etc. at the feet of Christianity. Were some professing “Christians” involved in these crimes? Certainly, but numerous evil-doers throughout history have often wrapped themselves in the cloak of religion — in this case, “Christianity” — to justify their behavior. But many other true Christian believers were at the forefront of the slavery abolition movement, and/or the civil rights movement, etc. Your main thesis is so compelling (glad I kept reading!) that I just hate to see it nearly spoiled so early on by making the same, tired claim that “Christianity” is the root of all evil in our recent civilization. I can find numerous counter arguments that clearly speak other wise. All I’m saying is you very nearly poisoned the well before I even took a drink!

  3. Sir, I believe that your analysis is the same as Judas saying that the alabaster box should have been sold and spent on the poor. Jesus replied that the woman anointing her feet would always be remembered as a testimony wheresoever the Gospel is preached. You are that wrong. The Gospel is not only about love, it is about clinging to Godliness. Love without speaking the truth in love is mere human emotion. You preach a form of Gospel, but without it’s power. You are right that in a deep, hungry Christianity persists in areas of persecution, but you fail completely to realize in those very same areas there is no such thing as women’s rights (much less gay rights), migrant rights, freedom to choose one’s marriage, little upward social/economic opportunity, often poor education, etc. etc… I am an Orthodox Christian, but I value a society built on the Protestant Judeo Christian work ethic. We don’t need more judgemental Christians, but those who will speak the truth in love to rich and poor, strong, and weak without political slant. Your slant is clearly showing here. So, if I disagree with you, I disagree with God? Can’t you see the irony here….

    • The irony that I’m seeing is that you have an obvious conservative slant, but you are taking me to task for having a slant. Of course I have a slant! Everyone has a slant! As it’s my blog (rather than a news site), it’s obviously going to be my slant on display.

      As to the meat of your argument: I don’t often get compared to Judas, so thank you for the new experience! As for “preaching a form of the Gospel without its power”… you lost me. I started this post by talking about the saving grace and redemption of Jesus Christ. If that’s not the entire power of the Gospel, then what is? And, I’m going to dispute the idea that the Gospel is about “clinging to Godliness.” The Law of Moses was about “clinging to Godliness”, and Paul acknowledged that all it ever did was increase sin. The Gospel really IS all about love: it’s about the love of God, shown to us through Jesus, and the love that we are to have for all of God’s creation. “Clinging to Godliness” is EASY. Ask any Private in the Army how easy it is to follow the rules, if the rules are all laid out for you. But unconditional love, radical love… that’s hard, ZV. It’s hard, but it’s truly “Good News” for everyone.

  4. As an atheist coming from a Christian geographical circumstance, I found this fascinating. Not because of your decidedly not-at-all-ignorant historical comments, which while refreshing to see a modern man of faith do more than dismissively deny, I take no delight in. No – what I appreciated most was your apparent adherence to the fundamental value system that was impressed upon me at a very young age, only to see systematically violated at every turn by its proponents great and small. This adherence should not seem like such a miracle. However, in light of recent history, I’ve come to see Christianity as nothing more than a whitewashed tomb. By contrast, you appear to be thoughtful and sincere. I have my doubts, of course, but it is my fond wish that your brethren see your message as one of hope, as I have. I applaud you.

    • Daniel, thank you for your kind words. It is my hope that atheists and followers of Jesus can join together in the work of justice and peace, rather than always seeing each other as “enemies.”

  5. When atheists start applauding your dismissal of Godly values, you should know you’re on the wrong track. I am NOT ashamed of the Gospel for it is the power unto salvation. I will boast all the more in His power and grace.

    • I just re-read my own blog post, and I’m unsure why you think I’m dismissing Godly values. I started the blog post by stating that I am not ashamed of the Gospel; I’m ashamed of the mockery of the Gospel that so much of American Christianity insists IS the Gospel.

      And, as for your comment about atheists applauding: the only atheist who applauded on this post gave a heartfelt response to the thoughts represented. He didn’t thank me for “dismissing Godly values”, he felt that I was RETURNING to the fundamental values of Christianity. So, please don’t attempt to make straw men out of atheists here. I’m far more comfortable eating and talking with them than I am with Christians who think that criticizing the Church is the same as criticizing Jesus.

      • This article could very well be the seed planted for that atheist who commended this post. God is probably working on the increase right now.

    • I *knew* someone would reply with something like this if I tried to be nice. How sad. Way to confirm my choice.

      • I certainly try to be ethical, just as I believe most people do, faithful or not. Anyway, I know I shouldn’t be discouraged. I won’t be as long as there are a few examples of graceful humility to stand against the prideful. Continuing to read down the comments, I’ve seen more than a few. Yet more cause for hope.

        Writing this must have been a bit of a risk. I’m glad you’re seeing some support. Good luck tidying up the temple. I wish you well.

  6. Thank you so much for your very insightful blog post. I find myself in agreement with it. Jesus didn’t appoint us to be the moral guardians of humanity to the point of denying others civil rights and liberties to force our beliefs on them; he commissioned us to carry the Good News of his death and resurrection and thus to win people over to his side through love. The church as a whole needs to disinvolve itself from worldly politics completely and get back to spreading the Gospel and serving others, no matter who they are.

  7. That day is coming sooner than you think. When we lose the right to be Christians in public (which, after all, is what you are talking about- oppressing a “Christian” because you personally don’t believe in his interpretation of scripture, and saying that worship should be done in church only and never in business), when you take an action and label people by it, you’re the beginning of what will happen to Christians in America.

    You, sir, are the oppressor.

    • I mark today on my calendar as the first time I have been compared to Judas AND called an oppressor! Thank you for all these new experiences!

      I am sorry that you feel I am oppressing you by pointing out that Jesus never promised us safety or freedom. I certainly never suggested that we “only” worship God in church – I try to worship God in “spirit and truth”, which means in my car, in the bar where I drink, on my back porch, etc. I worship God when I feed a hungry person, or help someone pay a bill, or minister to someone considering suicide. I also worship God in the church which I attend, but that’s the beginning of my worship, not the end. That is the smallest part. I encourage people to worship in their businesses, especially by encouraging others, helping those in need, and bringing the love and grace of Jesus to each person you encounter. But, if your definition of worshiping God in your business is turning people away because of their “sin”… well, then I can’t get on board with that.

  8. This was great! And how awesome that an atheist said that was great. When you lift up the son of man, you will draw all people to you. That’s in the bible.

    So is, “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” I’m seeing a lot of false prophets in here because they forget what is Gospel, what is the Good News of Jesus Christ. The good news is that we’re all forgiven and given the narrow way. And the narrow way is dying to your self, greatness through servant hood, proclaiming hope to the poor, letting the oppressed go free, helping the blind see and declaring the year of The Lord’s favor.

    This has done this. Thanks for your witness. Happy to have read this.

    • Well sir/madam, I guess if we are “all forgiven”, then there is really no need to spread the gospel, nor to be concerned at all about our lifestyle. We’re then free to ignore righteousness totally and just roll in the mire and filth of present day society.
      Thanks for clearing that up.

      • If you think that the purpose of the Gospel is to save everyone from the “mire and filth of present day society”, then stop spreading it. If you think that the Gospel is hope for the poor, freedom for the oppressed and the captives, sight for the blind, wholeness for the sick – all things that Jesus said the Gospel is – then us spreading that Good News is better when we are “all forgiven.”

  9. Great post! This is what I have been preaching in the small church I serve–without the elegance. Thank you so much. You have my encouragement and my prayers.

  10. I have read this post a couple of times and I’m still digesting. I do like to be challenged and this post certainly does that. If you would indulge a sincere reader, can you kindly provide context for your statement “Christian leaders demand the persecution and death of Muslims around the world…”?

    • Unfortunately for our my claims (but fortunately for Charisma News) they took down the post that I was referencing in that particular comment. I found a commentary on the post, as well as a reaction to the most hateful statements of the piece, and you can find that at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/09/08/charisma-news-islamophobic_n_5786942.html. Charisma News – and writer Gary Cass – might not be considered “Christian leaders” in the strictest sense, but the website is widely read enough that I felt it appropriate to include that statement.

      • From what I was able to read on Huffington, it sounds more like someone who belongs on Doomsday Preppers than in Charisma. I wish the whole thing were still available, not that I condone it, but would like to know whether he was talking specifically about ISIS or about Muslims in general.

      • I read the article in question, and he was talking about Muslims in general. That kind of Islamaphobia doesn’t differentiate between normal Muslims and ISIS.

      • Whether it’s Christian leaders or not, I have personally heard several Christians in my life say awful things and wish death upon Muslims and those that support them. I can’t assume all Christians feel this way, of course. They’ve called Islam a “terrorist religion” and it makes me wonder how the Love and Grace of Christ would bring them to a place of such hate….I can’t imagine wishing death on anyone. Your article is remarkable and came at a time when I have felt pretty alone in my convictions. THANK YOU for writing it. It was so encouraging to me.

  11. We have several points of agreement. First among them is that the church in the United States cannot claim that it is persecuted with a straight face. The church is often the subject of ridicule by some in the media and academic world. Big deal.

    I also believe that a “Christian America” is a myth. For some it was an ideal that was not realized. The Amish who live close by would love to have their way of life spread throughout the United States, and we could have many worse brands of religion spread. To say that there was a period in time when the vast majority of “Americans” were devoted Christians is an inaccurate reading of history. There was a time when most people went to church on Sundays. That was because is was the respectable thing to do.

    I don’t know much about Franklin Graham, as I have never listened to much of what he has to say. I did very much respect his father most of the time. However, I am happy to be lumped in with most of the Christians I do know. They are often the ones most active in Habitat for Humanity, the local food pantries, and the homeless shelters. They are often the ones traveling overseas to provide medical assistance in places where there are no hospitals. They are often the ones providing financial support to build universities in nations that do not have the financial resources to do so. They are often the ones working in Thailand to rescue young women from lives as sex slaves. They are the ones working to break down the caste system in India with churches that include the wealthy and the untouchables in the same service. Do they sometimes make mistakes as they are doing these things? Sure, but they are often the ones out there doing something about them.

    It was the church was often at the forefront of the effort to abolish slavery in England, then in the U.S. As the gospel has spread the position of women has often been vastly improved. Are there exceptions to these parts of the church’s history? Certainly.

    I also believe that the church in the United States should advocate for religious liberty. School systems that would ban Muslim girls from covering their heads need to be stopped. School systems that demand that pork be on the school lunch menu are focused on persecuting Jews and Muslims. Forcing atheists to say, “Under God,” compromises their integrity. I don’t think you would argue that we, as a nation, should do any of those things, and would hope that you would agree that the church should stand to protect their freedom. Now, I will throw out one that is controversial. I do not think a Roman Catholic pharmacist should be required to dispense the “morning after” pill, when there is a pharmacist a half mile away that is willing to do so. If he or she does so, they are under an automatic sentence of excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church. One could say, “Then they should not be pharmacists.” You could say the same thing about the Muslims, the Jews, or the Atheists. If they do not like the violation of their rights under the public schools, they can start their own schools.

    It’s not a Christian ideal demand my own rights. I do think it is a Christian ideal to stand against the coerced violation of the conscience of others. I do not know much about the new Indiana law. I know I have heard it characterized as taking us back to the 1950’s. I also know that President Clinton was applauded for signing a similar law. Some say, “That was a different time.” It was. If such laws are wrong and unjust, where are the calls for the repeal of the federal law. Or, is the furor more about politics than it is about the law? It is not just about the politics of the Democratic Party looking for a way to attack a Republican governor who was rumored to be exploring a run for the presidency. It is also about the politics of a Republican Party that suddenly became concerned with religious freedom when there was political hay to be made. May we, as Christians, not be naively drawn into the politics of Republican vs. Democrat (or Green or Libertarian). May we, rather, engage in politics in such a way as to protect the dignity of every person, including guarding the free exercise of their conscience.

  12. After reading your post I wanted to provide another perspective (as if there aren’t enough already). Your portrayal of the “Religious Freedom Restoration” legislation seems to iterate that it allows people to arbitrarily deny “goods and services to people that they don’t like”, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. It allows people a defense when a person or group demands a business participate in an activity that is contrary to their religious beliefs. Whether that belief is same-sex marriage, kosher only food, or women be fully covered in a Bukhara. It allows that business to defend itself and must prove their religious exemption in a court of law if sued for discrimination. IT DOES NOT say that a business can deny goods or services merely because they don’t like their lifestyle. A Christian baker will still sell cakes/cookies to a gay couple but should not be forces to participate in a gay wedding. A Jewish deli can sell it’s products to customers but should not be forced to cook a pig at a Hawaiian luau’.
    Yes, Christians have persecuted in the past. But don’t forget they have also been persecuted. Eventually Christians took a stand and fought back. They had to. When the sea was parted for the Jews to escape God allowed the sea to consume the attackers. The Bible is full of stories of God bringing His wrath on those who opposed Him and his chosen. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by God for their sinfulness. Yes, we are to meek, gentle, kind, forgiving, and try to follow in Christ’s example. Eventually we must stand up to sin in the world and not be forced to conform to the worldly and sinful desires that sneak up all around us. Should Christian pastors be forced to perform marriages to gay couples? Should churches be forced to open their doors or rent out their spaces to secular interests that want to hold wet T-shirt contests in their halls? Where is the line drawn? Where do modern Christians turn over the tables of the salespeople in the temple? This isn’t about discriminating against another group, its about taking a stand for Christ. It is possible for today’s Christians to love the sinner while hating the sin, and also choosing to not participate in the sinners lifestyle.

  13. You are the worst kind of religious person. One who is both intelligent and a believer. How dare you apply logic and reason sir! Sola Scriptura! Heretic!

  14. There’s a lot here I agree with, but with a lot of misgivings as well. First what I agree with.

    I certainly won’t argue that Christians in the US have it easy compared to Christians in the years of the Early Church or in Middle Eastern countries and so on where real persecution is happening. I also won’t dispute the ways that American Christianity has been on the “wrong” side of the fence before when it comes to the ethics and practices is our society throughout the history of the US. I also won’t dispute the reality that as Christ followers, we SURRENDER ourselves to Jesus and his Lordship over our lives. Which means, as you put it, giving up our rights just as Christ did.

    Here’s where I disagree. Yes, my first loyalty is to Christ and the Kingdom of God. BUT, I can’t change the fact that I was born in the USA and am an American citizen. That alone, by way of the Constitution, gives me certain inalienable rights, one of which is the right to religious freedom and expression. The tone of your article leads me to think that I should somehow feel shame over that fact, which is something that is completely out of my control. I don’t know why God chose for me to be born in the US, in a white upper-middle class suburban environment, why I was allowed to have an education, and why I was given wonderful parents who also love Christ and raised me in like manner. But I don’t think I should feel shame in those things, which your article leads me to believe is one of your intentions, along with having rights that naturally come with being a US citizen. And as a US citizen with certain rights granted by the Constitution, don’t I also have a right to stand up when I feel like one of those rights – such freedom of religion and expression – is violated? I would like to think so.

    Yes, Christians do a terrible job at condemning and judging others outside the Church for any variety of reasons and are not called to do that. BUT, I don’t think that means that we should go the complete opposite and toss out core convictions that we hold to based on scripture, our interpretation of it, or Orthodox theology that has been held in place for centuries. While I always desire show grace and love, pursue peace and reconciliation, I also find that I am finding it harder and harder to keep my faith convictions intact, which are very important to me and to other believers. When I read an article like this (and more and more like it that I keep seeing pop up online), it makes me believe that the progressive call is to squash our convictions and Orthodox theology, because it’s just too darn inconvenient.

    I understand your struggles and issues, and I share many of them. But I wear my Christian faith and evangelical stripes on my sleeve. Why? Because if I don’t, that means I am ashamed of the Gospel. And I am not because of the power I believe it holds.

    • I don’t like to be saddled with the “progressive” label. I certainly hold many beliefs that would be considered “progressive”, but I also hold beliefs that would be considered “conservative.” I believe, as you do, that much of “progressive theology” is weak at its core, but I believe that much of “conservative theology” is entirely too self-centered and ignores the larger social implications of the Gospel that Jesus preached.

      I am sorry that you felt shame, or that you felt that I was intending shame. I can see how some of my language might have contributed to that, and for that I deeply apologize. The word that you used that I really liked was “surrender”. The crowd that I’m proclaiming to, doing a little bit of “shame on you”, is the crowd that chooses defiance instead of surrender. Surrendering to Jesus requires a lot more than saying a prayer and holding to a list of “thou shalt nots”. Surrendering to Jesus requires a surrendering of our rights, freedoms, privileges and power for the sake of the oppressed and powerless.

  15. Hi! I’m a little confused, after reading through your blog and the comments. From what you said here, do you believe that when Jesus came, all men were immediately forgiven?

    “Good Friday marks the day that Jesus went to the cross, when Jesus took on the sin of all mankind and expunged it. Good Friday marks the day that Jesus cried out from the cross, where he hung dying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” Good Friday marks the day when the earth shook, and the veil of the Temple – the barrier between God and man for a thousand years – tore asunder. No longer was God an unapproachable entity. God came and dwelt among us, dwelt in us. When Jesus died, the power of sin died with Him. Separation from God was no longer an option.”

    That’s how it sounds to me. Before I comment further, I wanted to clarify. Thanks!

    • Hi Becky! Thanks for your question. I believe that Jesus took all sin to the cross, and broke its power for all time. I believe that repentance is a response to grace, not a requirement for it. And I believe that God continues in the work of redemption to this day.

  16. I regularly attend a United Church of Christ. I was raised Methodist and Baptist; I’ve always had a church connection. I could not care less if someone wants to think or call me a Christian or not. It’s actually none of their business, but if you asked me I’d say, “whatever”. Mostly for the reasons you outlined – the boring trail of caveats you have to follow up with; Christians have poisoned their brand (way to go Christians! You’re making all of us spiritual people look bad.)

    Now Jesus – he’s exciting! He “went viral” long before Gangam Style! He’s the coolest and is such a stellar example for me and my family. He wasn’t a Christian, so I’m not real worried about getting that label…I just try to behave more like him.

    Many of the congregants in my church don’t believe in hell, or salvation, or literal interpretations that seems to go against the grain of Jesus’ teachings. Many of us recognize that the Bible was indeed assembled by -ahem- MEN! (not God, not Jesus) and therefore it is not likely a perfect or historically accurate text. We all think there’s plenty of good stuff in there, it’s just not the actual word of God (which I’m sure will get some folks on this comment section praying for my soul or the wayward ways of heathen churches). Folks can visit and join our church and we don’t require them to believe a durn theological thing, they are free to explore, express and question as much as they’d like and we are perfectly content with the current and future status of their soul if they are. I guess you could say we focus more on Christ than Christianity.

    I applaud this post because it does get some folks thinking; but I also cringed at a few theological presumptions such as the forever expungement of sin. I believe that Jesus calling out was simply like him saying, “damnit! we’re all just humans! Go easy on us!”

    Easter is one of my favorite holidays, but since my spiritual life has matured, I do struggle with some of the story (because I grew up being taught it was literal), but I take the message to be one of RADICAL LOVE, RADICAL FORGIVENESS and a RADICAL call out for us to do the same, even if Christ’s body can no longer be found.

    One last thing, and it’s another toughie – the cross. Really Christians? You think Jesus wants us to remember him bloody and prostrated waving around in the air? He spends his life on the move, talking, healing, making friends, eating and drinking and Christians idolize the snapshot of the moment he died? Kinda gruesome.

    Please, keep the fish symbol – y’know, it’s about sharing. (and Jesus, you and I both know that every breath my child takes, every beautiful interaction with someone, every perfect blade of grass and even in my sorrow – they all are reminders of you).

    BTW, my church has a regular attendance or about 150, membership rolls are considerably more and we have about 60 retired clergy for a multitude of denominations (including Methodist and Baptist) and a while back our pastor refused to perform any marriage ceremonies until marriage equality was achieved in our state. It was and he does the service now. Thank God.

  17. While this article contains some truths, it also contains misinformation and is ultimately misguided. And “thus saith the Lord” is really quite presumptuous language to use in a blog post…. The RFRA is not about denying “goods and services to people that they don’t like.” It is about trying to preserve the little Christian liberty we have left. Wake up. Christian faith is under assault as never before as the powerful homosexual lobby is (rather successfully) intimidating expressions of Christian faith. Let me ask this: why should secularists, atheists and god-haters be the only ones whose ideas are worthy of discussion in the public square? Why should their values be the only ones upon which public policy is formulated when we supposedly live in an open, tolerant and pluralistic society? Should not all ideas have equal opportunity to compete in the marketplace? But this is not what is happening anymore, as anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear may discern. The takeover of our nation’s worldview has been going on for decades as our media, schools and government become increasingly dominated by a secular, anti-Christian mindset. Do we not realize that in such an environment the Christian’s current blessing of freedom to worship God openly, in spirit and in truth, will inevitably be taken away? Should we not try to prevent this, or should we rather flagellate ourselves over past sins and do nothing, speeding up the process of losing all our influence and giving up our religious liberty? While I of course agree that the real power of God is the gospel of Christ to change people, and that ultimately political solutions won’t turn America around, should we sit back and watch passively as the country continues in its moral and spiritual disintegration? No, we are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, preserving that which is good by courageously standing for truth! Yes, Christians (or at least some who acted in the name of Christ) made mistakes in American history; let’s correct those mistakes and move forward. If despite our best efforts to be salt and light we in God’s providence do become a more persecuted class, and must take our faith underground, then so be it. But as of today, we still live in a country with many who identify as Christians and we still possess a measure of liberty to live openly for Christ. The true believers among us must stand firm for Christ against ungodliness and live by His truth. Is American sinless? Of course not. And we too are all individually sinners. But I count myself extremely blessed to live in an America whose Judeo-Christian foundations led us to develop the most prosperous, free and compassionate society this world has known. And despite my weakness and sinfulness I am nevertheless called to be an ambassador and agent of salt and light in this world of darkness. This is what the Lord really says (Matthew 5:13-16).

    • You are allowed to discuss Christianity in a public place, can you cite an example of someone discussing Christianity and being arrested or shut down by the government? I think you are confusing being-able-to-have-a-discussion with everyone-should-be-agreeing-with-me. I found a link to a chart that might help explain some of the differences between actual oppression and just finding popular opinion distasteful http://reverbpress.com/news/were-religious-liberties-violated/.
      I find your presumption that the “homosexual lobby” is contrary to the Christian faith. I know a lot Christian homosexuals. Many of them are extremely relieved to find a church home that welcomes them just as they are and able to serve without distractions about their orientation (I mean, do you sit around in church with your friends talking about hetero sex life?)
      I had to laugh at this line that smacks of “free market” capitalism nestled in Christianity, ” Should not all ideas have equal opportunity to compete in the marketplace?” – traditional, patriarchical, anti-gay ideas are competing in “the marketplace” – they are simply losing out to the idea that everyone has worth just as they are and should be treated equally.
      My question to you: are you willing to walk forward and live openly with your brothers and sisters in Christ, just as they are, or do you require a very specific and segregated membership card?
      Listen to Jesus. What did he have to say about it? Does your heart say to remember to love your neighbor as yourself or point out your differences and separate from them?

  18. So long as Christianity makes up 78.56% of the population of the US (That’s adding up the percentages according to the pew research institute) I severely doubt that Christians will be persecuted. Unless by persecution you mean disagreeing with them. Which in that case, I am guilty of persecuting Christians, Muslims, Jews, Pagans and every other religion.

  19. What is bothersome is so many Christians always saying, “Jesus this, Jesus that”……. this talk is old and worn out and is in direct line with the times to now begin to fade away. This happens each time we move from one age to another, approximately a 2150 year long period, it is when the story and, “way” of the age no longer serves us and hence a new story and way begin to replace the old. So if all this talk about Jesus is going by the wayside what might be the next step for Christians? I can share with you exactly what the next step for Christians is, for those Christians who care to spiritually evolve that is. So what is it that the Christians must now begin to do?

    First you must understand that with the creation of the, “church” just a year after the council of Nicaea, certain powers offered Christ to the people, but the problem is that the church offers us the false image of Christ. It has been suggested that of the worlds 2+ billion Christians, that some 77% are still fooled into following the churches false image of Christ. With this understood than what are the next steps to truly becoming synchronized with the authentic Christ?

    As a Christian who is genuinely seeking to advance their spirit you must begin to become re-empowered by your Free Will of Choice. You must begin to realize that your entire experience is based on your choices, and as such your free will of choice is quite ultimately the architect of your destiny. If you begin to become ever conscious of your choice making, and you work hard in consistently making choices based upon good morals you shall come to realize that even Sin, is but a choice. It is here and by way of this lifestyle that personal empowerment over sin is ever present until it becomes omnipotent to sin. And it is here that one begins to dissolve into and become the Christ. It is no longer about simply accepting Christ, but it is about doing as Christ. It’s no longer about a belief in Christ, rather it’s about doing in Christ.

    And when the greater part of the population of this planet comes into full union with this type of life path, it is then that we shall reach Kingdom Come, or , the Kingdom of Heaven coming to earth. It is then and ONLY then that we will come to create miracles even greater than he.

    It’s time to stop the Jesus Talk, and begin to Walk the Jesus Walk.

    Love, Light, and Power, the Power of Free Will of Choice,
    13
    (Christ brought us LOVE through the giving of his precious life to us. Buddha brought us LIGHT from up on high. And the final element to complete this phase of humanities spiritual evolution is POWER; the power of Free Will of Choice. Become empowered by this power in you)

  20. Frankly, I don’t think you’re a very good historian or theologian for that matter. Here’s an excerpt from your post, “A Christian America where European settlers, fleeing persecution for their lack of ideological purity… tortured and murdered people for their lack of ideological purity.” Pardon me for spoiling the narrative you are trying to paint, but didn’t these Europeans flee persecution not due to a “lack” of ideological purity, but BECAUSE of it? That’s why they were called…ahem….PURITIANS! People fled to America so they could worship God according to their own conscience, and not in a way that was mandated by the State or by another man’s conscience. But you seem to have that base covered. You write, “I don’t often claim to speak with the Spirit, but today feels like the day when I must say “Thus saith the Lord.”” “Often”? So you’ve claimed to speak the very words of God before? So you’re not speaking from your own conscience, but with spiritual infallibilty, i.e Ex Cathedra? May I ask by what authority? Apostolic? Did you walk with Jesus, or like Paul, have you “seen the risen Christ”? Those were their credentials. Seriously, while I disagree with your understanding of Christian liberty, I respect your right to believe it. May I humbly suggest, however, that your zeal for liberty runs contrary to Paul’s words in 1Cor. 8, in which he exhorts us to protect and defend the conscience of our weaker brethren, not compel them as it were to “eat meat sacrificed to idols.” Instead you brand these weaker brethren “heretics”. My take (and I’m not speaking Ex Cathedra) is that Paul’s rebuke to you would be found in v12 of that same chapter where he says, “But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ.” But, these are just words from a humble man, merely sharing his own opinion.

  21. Thus sayeth the Lord? I doubt it. You wax eloquent, but there is nothing inherently sinful about self preservation and / or standing up for ones God given right(s). You seem to have intentionally forgot that Jesus also instructed his disciples to “…if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36). Jesus never meant for us to roll over and play dead. Immediately before His betrayal, Jesus told His disciples that in the days to come, they would need swords for self-defense because of the dangers they would face. This is how many interpreters understand His words in Luke 22:35-38, and if it applied to the disciples then, how much more does it apply to persecuted Christians today? Let’s say you and your wife (if you are married) were missionaries in Iraq. Now let’s imagine for a moment that you both were being pursued by ISIS. Now let us also assume that you were armed with a weapon for self defense (Luke 22:36). Should you use that weapon to defend yourselves? Would it be a sin if you did? I say it would be sin (not to mention suicidal) if you did not.

    You have accused myself and untold numbers of other Christians of no small sin by saying “we try to separate others from the forgiveness and love that Christ offered on Good Friday.” That is a lie. No one I know, or have ever read is saying this. Unrepentant sinners of any stripe are the ones that have separated themselves from God’s grace and forgiveness. No one, and I repeat no one, has the power to do that but the individual himself. Your whole article is full of innuendo and accusations that are so far off base, and a theology that is so contorted, that it would take far too much of my time to refute your errors one by one. So I’ll just say this, may the Lord grant you repentance for all the false accusations you have made against individuals and against the “faith once delivered”.

    • If my wife and I were missionaries in Iraq, we would not be armed. And, if ISIS came after us (which they undoubtedly would), I would not attempt to defend myself. That’s absolutely, unequivocally, part of the message of Jesus: “Do not resist evil with evil.” “Love your enemies” is also in there, and loving enemies is difficult when you’ve got a gun pointed at them.

      It’s interesting that you used the Iraq allusion, because I’ve spent a couple of years in Iraq as a soldier. So, I’m no stranger to the concept of self-defense, or offensive warfare. By renouncing violence, I haven’t sworn off something that I’ve never experienced. I’m not an uninformed pacifist. I know what it feels like to have someone try to kill you, and I know what it’s like to point a loaded weapon at someone and pull the trigger. But, there is far more power in “put away your sword” than there is in “kill or be killed.” Trust me on this one.

      Finally, your use of Luke 22:36 deserves a bit of argument. If you’ll read until verse 38 of the same chapter, you’ll see that Jesus calls two swords “Enough.” Two swords wouldn’t have possibly been enough to defend Jesus or the disciples against anything – but two swords were just the right number for Jesus to be charged with leading an armed rabble…. which was in fulfillment of prophecy. And, when one of His disciples tried to use the sword, Jesus told him to put it away, “for he who lives by the sword will die by it.” So, Luke 22:36 was really Jesus telling His disciples to have swords for a very specific purpose, and by His own rebuke of Peter, that purpose was not self-defense.

  22. One of the most difficult things a modern Christian must do, is sludge through the ‘fundamentalism’ of American Christianity. I was raised a fundamentalist. A baptist. The son of an Evangelical minister who, for the most part, did his best to portray God the best way he could. I grew up with this ‘persecuted’ complex that comes out of the pulpits from ministers who say the most obscene things about people without batting an eye because, well, ‘its in the Bible.” Yet, they never check themselves.
    American Christianity is so busy paying attention to what everyone else is doing, it doesn’t check itself.
    It’s like driving down the free way and paying attention to whats happening three lanes over.
    Rolling Stone Magazine put out an article awhile back about the real origins of the religious right. And made the case that it was surrounding not the issue of Abortion, which was pounded into our brains since the 1980s. The Genesis came, in fact, from an earlier case than Roe v. Wade. It came from Brown v Board. Jerry Falwell, Oral Roberts et al, were furious that their tax exempt universities had to allow black people in otherwise the IRS was going to take away their 501c3. Essentially, the whole thing was built around hate of ‘other’ and ‘different’.
    Fast forward to today, its the same thing. While this movement is aging. Dare I say becoming quite geriatric. Their fervor hasn’t dispelled with time. As they are losing power, their fevered passion is pushed to higher levels as they struggle to maintain control.
    You were right. It isn’t about the Passion of Christ. Their message is as ‘christian’ and they ‘Christians’ as the man in the moon.
    Meanwhile they keep up this Martyrdom facade, that since Jesus got nailed to a cross, they must perpetually nail themselves to the cross so the world can see their suffering. They’re not in it for the love of God, they’re in it for the love of power. It’s political. And politics is corruptible. And therefore the American Church is corrupted. But that isn’t a death sentence. Everything us humans touch becomes corrupted. But they had better turn back now, and realize what Christ saved them from.
    I find no difference in them than the powers that be in Rome.
    Should Christ walk the earth today, it wouldn’t be the government that would kill him.
    It would be his church.

  23. This is by far one of the best blog posts I have ever randomly come across. THANK YOU from a family who left church for good because of the exact things and types of people you describe….and as a result got cast in that whole “enemy” category by the very same people who claimed love, acceptance, and grace. Far too many “Christians” have turned the church into a big social club where they embrace anyone who believes identical to them and reject, demonize, and ridicule all those who are even slightly different or who attempt to offer different points of view on their staunchly held hatred. Want to know what or who is REALLY harming churches? The people who call themselves the church.

  24. Strange, how this blogger talks about how Jesus was SO humble in not speaking up for Himself, yet has to argue with everyone who disagrees with him. I think the Bible calls that a hypocrite. As for the blog itself, there is some truth mixed in with the poop, but I don’t eat brownies with poop, even if it’s only a little poop. 🙂 Neither should anyone else reading it. This guy is talking to, and about the BRIDE OF CHRIST! Don’t forget that when you read it again. Then ask yourself, “thus sayeth the Lord”? Really? To the Bride Of Christ? I don’t think so!

    • I have to make a side note here: every time I see the name Joe, I have a “Fox in Socks” moment: “Who comes? Crow comes! Slow Joe Crow comes…. Slow Joe Crow sews whose clothes? Sue’s clothes!”

      In seriousness, and in answer to your charge that I have been hypocritical to the spirit of this blog, allow me to ask you: have I discriminated, Joe? Have I told negative commenters that they are unwelcome? Have I done anything in my responses that could be construed as an attack, or have I simply sought to clarify some of the points made?

      Other than that, I join with the Apostle Paul and Martin Luther in saying that I am the very worst of sinners, and a hypocrite far more often than I’d like to admit. Thank God that I have an even greater Savior!

      Also, if you think that it’s irregular or wrong to speak sternly to the Church, the faithful, the Bride of Christ, I strongly recommend that you go back and read all of the Old Testament prophets. They said some things that would make modern readers blush.

  25. Thank you for the outstanding post. I suspect that if more Christians had such empathy, compassion, and an even temper, people wouldn’t find them as toxic as they do now. It’d go a lot further towards loving one another and living in harmony, which is what we should all want, regardless of faith or lack thereof.

  26. And yet again. Telling others one thing, while doing the very same thing you are critical of them for being. I would venture to say that it’s close to impossible for you to remain silent or to not come to your own defense. Yet you expect all these you accuse to not take a stand for what they believe in. It’s laughable at best to those of us who know and have a true relationship with the very Christ you talk about. You blaspheme His word in your blogs and your posts and get your own little followers who make you feel all warm and cozy inside, while the whole time, you are leading them away from the truth. I will leave you with that, for I am sure you will have clever words to back your position. Just know that those of us who really do follow Christ, who really do stand for His truth, for His passions, and His Kingdom see right through these false ideologies that you and others try to bring to “Christianity”. How? He speaks to us through His word!

  27. Thank you trying to find the true heart of faith and exploring a road not taken. I have been troubled that we as Christians get so worked up about our rights that they become an end to themselves, an idol to be worshiped. Now, I will continue to teach my children all that I believe is true and holy, and that is the sanctity of God-ordained marriage is a relationship between men and women. That is something that is non-negotiable in my humblest understanding of Scripture, and I will raise my sons accordingly. But, I don’t have to try to pass laws or stand on the streets yelling to get that done. Most of all, as you say, if I am persecuted for what happens in my home and church, then I have drawn blessings from the Father for it. Again, thank you.

  28. Atheist here! You know, it’s the first time that I read something from a devout Christian, and it doesn’t make me want to puke? Quite the contrary… I shared your blog with the title: “if this guy had been my pastor, I probably still would be a believer”. It’s nice to see that at least some Christians still follow Jesus and his teachings… Such a shame most don’t (as proven by all the idiotic statements from conservative christians who obviously are not even educated enough to actually understand what you’re saying). Anyway, thanks, your article gives me (a tiny bit) of hope.

  29. Thanks so much for this blog post. As a gay man who spent 25 years of his life growing up in a Pentecostal environment and church, this really hit home. I’m a person who’s struggled with the word Christian and felt I couldn’t use it to describe myself as there was no such thing as a gay Christian, or would feel made fun of my my gay friends who aren’t religious/spiritual, or even my straight friends, who couldn’t understand how someone who was gay, could believe the same way he was raised. I still believe much of what I was taught about the teachings of Christ. I learned to question the teachings of the church, his followers and his ministers. It took a long time to shake the guilt and learned to study and think for myself and come to my own conclusions.

    I continue to call myself Spiritual, to avoid any backlash from anyone. I hate that. I hate how all Christians become lumped into one group. Those extremist seem to have the most voice right now and are in positions of power, hence why we are seeing such insane Religious Freedom laws being passed. I hate seeing what this is doing to our country, but at the same time my spirits are lifted when I see support for our community and see posts like yours.

    I honestly don’t know where I’m going with all this, so I apologize if I’m rambling. It just hit home for me being a gay man who believes in Christ and his teachings. And for that, I thank you.

    • Mark, Jesus said to Nicodemus that, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son; that WHOSOEVER believes in Him should not perish, but have (everlasting/eternal/abundant) life.” Don’t ever let anyone try and tell you that you are separated from God’s grace, especially if you are earnestly seeking Him. You are Beloved. I wish you peace, Mark. Above all else, I wish you peace.

      • It’s hard moving past the part of not feeling worthy, when you constantly hear that you’re not. I’m struggling still well into my late 40’s, but I haven’t given up. Thanks again.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s